Monday 25 April 2016

How Are Listeners Choosing to Listen?

Listeners don't really care how they listen, provided it is convenient and they enjoy the content.

Rajar published its latest MIDAS study last week. That's where they grab hold of some of the Rajar respondents who completed the online diaries (as opposed to the good old-fashioned colouring books), and prod them with a stick for more insight about how their listening was delivered.

MIDAS, by the way, stands for 'Measurement of Internet Delivered Audio Services'. I'm guessing they made the words fit the acronym. Just like we do in radio-land. Title first, worry about the rest later. Sorry, I'm off on a tangent here.

The heading is 'audio' time. In other words, the study usefully examines how we consume audio generally. A 1978 study would have had 'record players', 'cassette players' and '8 track carts' on the list. Let's remember there has always been competition for the ear since the strolling mummers.

Folk spend 26 hours per week with audio entertainment, with live radio making up almost three quarters of that time. Get out the bunting. That's good news.  As we know, live radio reaches 90% of the population across the week. Although the volume of listening to catch-up radio and podcasts is relatively low, 8% of adults use catch-up and 7% podcast at least once a week. Podcasts are hugely speech-oriented.

Of the live radio proportion, how are listeners listening? 46.6% is to FM and AM. In other words, more listening is now to things other than an old-fashioned radio, but analogue broadcast remains the largest party in a minority government. However, to sustain the metaphor carelessly, DAB is the Lib Dems, supplying another 35% of listening, meaning that 'the radio set' remains in power.  It is the most important device overall by some margin (around 82% of all listening).

It's worth reminding programme teams who may listen atypically, being funky media chicks, that their audience is still more likely to be using a radio for the majority of their consumption.

Given Rajar have been busy with these surveys for the last three years now, we can establish how quickly things are changing. The MIDAS study in Spring 2014 (which I took to be broadly similar, although fewer respondents)  gave 53% of live radio listening to AM/FM (now 46.6%) and 32% to DAB (now 35%).

The reach of 'other platforms' for live radio consumption is now very high.  Just over two-thirds of us ever listen to radio online in any way, for whatever duration.

Who's streaming music? Blokes more than women.  In an average week 7.6m access an on-demand  music service, (compared to 48.2m listening to live radio).  On-demand music services account for 6% of all audio hours, which is 1.4 hours per week, tripling to 4.5 hours for 15-24s – 16% of all their audio.

By device, PCs and laptops are ours - with live radio producing the most audio consumed, closely followed by streaming services. Tablets are music streaming-led (30%) with radio at 17.6%. Add in catch up radio to that figure, though, and 'radio' leads. Smartphones have 'digital tracks' (downloaded music) leading, albeit with live radio closely following.

Brum brum. Live radio accounts for 84% of all in-car listening, compared to 1.2% for the on-demand music services. There's no slice on the pie chart denoting ear-time devoted to screaming kids in the back.

As always with research, I try to put it into a context.  As this sample is of those who have chosen to complete the on-line Rajar diary rather than the paper one, I imagine that the respondents are a touch more likely to be at the cutting edge of technology (although I note that provision has been made in the calculations to allow for those who are not on broadband etc). And I'd also caution that sometimes, as radio sets receive more than one platform and even flip from platform to platform automatically, and as people listen on ever more devices, the ability of any individual to know or recollect which device was used for which slice of listening  is open to question. 

In the States, the recent Edison/Triton Digital Survey suggests that 93% of U.S. adults listen to radio weekly. 57% of adults (12+) had listened to online radio in the past month.  The number of people who own a radio at home was 96% in 2008; it's now 79%.

Back to Blighty,  the whole MIDAS survey looks sensible and makes for interesting reading. It is another creditable and useful piece of intelligence by the fine folk at Rajar.

What does it tell us?  That most of what we radio stations make is still consumed live, and that which is not is often distinctive speech. It tells us that we need to be aware that listeners listen to us in all sorts of ways, and we simply must ensure that we are always where the listeners expect us to be, and easily found there, however expensive that increasingly becomes.  The radio in the corner or the car remains, however, hugely important, and it's much too early to presume that our typical listener is not listening to one for much of the time. But - we need to be across this whole area, it's changing quickly - and the pattern for younger demos ever quicker still.

It also reminds us that a new battleground is looming, with cunning new adversaries. We need to be alert to them, continuing to do what radio does best, and to miss no trick in distinctive content generation; powerful marketing for the medium and its content; and in influencing gadget design. It's an unprecedented battle, potentially more bloody than the one posed by television, and we shall have but one chance of winning.

My book 'How to Make Great Radio' is out now, and available on Amazon

Sunday 17 April 2016

Irate Listeners Sometimes Don't Listen

I handled an email a few weeks ago from an irate listener who was APPALLED at something they'd heard. 

Actually, the presenter had simply not said what the listener had suggested. The listener had clearly misheard. We wrote back politely; and heard no more. I suspect they felt a little humble, or. more likely, felt we were making up our response.

Another of our presenters was chastised a few years ago for being thoroughly homophobic on-air. The correspondent deduced that we, as station management, must all be too. I was not of the view the remark was homophobic at all and had been completely misconstrued.  I rather suspect the complainant did not appreciate the irony of the general presumptions and assertions about the particular presenter and management - not least in the context of the jolly array of sexualities alive and kicking with pride in the entertainment industry.

Programmer, Jane Hill, reminds me of the complainant who called  with deep concern about the song 'Eff Off'. Not least because the chorus just chanted the remark incessantly.  I'm not sure the Motors imagined their vocals were likely to be thus misinterpreted when they recorded 'Airport;' in 1978. You'll never be able to hear that song in the same light ever again.

On the jet plane way down the runaway.
And I can't believe that she really wants to leave me - and it's
getting me so,
It's getting me so.
Eff off -
Eff off, you've got a smiling face....
Eff off 
Eff off, you've got a smiling face...

I live in hope that listeners might just give their chosen stations the benefit of the doubt, before leaping into angry exchanges. We usually try our best to stay on the right side of things; and where we err, a polite nudge would be appreciated. Don't presume the worst of us, not least because we fully appreciate that you have a life to lead and your ears are not always Sellotaped to the radio.

The BBC 1928 handbook suggests:  "Hardly ever does a critic admit in so many words that he is expressing his own views only". How true. 

And for those music programmers getting furious with listeners convinced that a particular song has been played THREE TIMES in the LAST HOUR, rest assured it's not a new problem:

"There is, again, the impression that anything particularly disliked invariably predominates. To those to whom dance music is anathema it appears to be broadcast in every programme. A listener who does not care for talks cannot switch on without finding one in progress, and another who longs for variety entertainment is utterly bewildered at the interminable transmissions of symphony concert". (BBC Handbook 1928)

The BBC began to despair about listener behaviour. As smartly-dressed programme makers expended ever more effort polishing their performance, they got the view that some listeners just weren't bloody well listening properly.  

The 1930 BBC Year Book dutifully, therefore, issued this wonderful Good Listening charter (pictured), which suggested "you can't get the best out of a programme if your mind is wandering".  

It concludes famously:

"If you only listen with half an ear you haven't a quarter of a right to criticise".  

I shall attach the jpeg to my next reply to unwarranted criticism.

Monday 11 April 2016

Accidents and Incidents

Not one of my carefully-crafted Tweets has ever attracted quite so much comment as my peremptory intolerance last weekend about an otherwise decent travel bulletin I heard, but which also assured me there were 'no accidents or incidents' to report.

Putting to one side whether it's sensible to retain a 12 inch travel news service when there's so little news around, that the long-suffering presenters struggle to find sufficient to say before they hit the first post in the travel bed, I'm more concerned about this 'accident or incident' business.

It seems to me to amount to a rather long-winded way of saying that there is, actually, nothing to say. 

'Incident', in this context, is an umbrella word which covers everything from ducks wandering into the path of your Vauxhall Astra to a multiple pile-up on the M1.  An 'accident' is a sort of 'incident'.  You surely don't need to say both, yet the tautology is spreading across UK travel bulletins like a fever. 

Mr Oxford English Dictionary insists: "An accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury".

To be frank, if you are simply saying politely that you've nothing more to add, maybe you don't even need to tell me. We don't do that when a news bulletin ends. 'Why talk at all if there is nothing to talk about?' chips in @andymay.

I gather the Constables prefer the phrase 'incident' to 'accident' as they do not wish to intimate that anything was unintentional or done without negligence, whilst Morse is still scratching his head wondering who the villain is. The word is sometimes used in news bulletins too when things are unclear. Steve @SMartin describes 'incident' as a 'weasel word', used to 'vague up something that could be far more talkable if better described'.   Therein lies both its value and its uselessness.

@LouMitchell77 volunteered that accidents are bigger than incidents. I'm not sure that's true, given there have been many significant 'incidents' in history. People have died in 'incidents'.  It's arguably a very English way of talking about something bloody huge.

Some people argue there is no such thing as an accident. The brilliant @Danofftheradio disagrees. And I agree with him.

Gareth, @LookoutWales2, suggested we should always avoid 'incidents' - he prefers 'problems'. It’s likely what our listeners might say, which is always a decent start.

Presenters appear to be rather taken by its rhythm - and, yes, Paul Simon liked it too:

All along along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations

My ramblings triggered a torrent of other pet-hates. 

@StrubCrouch reminded me of 'sheer weight of traffic'. Yes - the roads are busy because there are lots of cars on them. Arguably that 'sheer weight' business does tell me that there was no accident, but frankly, all I care about is when I'm going to get home.

@Suekcraft moaned about 'the roads are moving slowly'.  

@JuliecarJulie remarked that 'down here, one traffic reporter always adds 'for you' on the end. 'No incidents for you' or 'looking busy for you'.  Whilst I adore the power of the word 'you', let's agree that's over-egging a little.

As I've mentioned many times, don't trouble me with the 'earlier accident'? As opposed to that one just about to happen, one presumes.

And don't mention 'usual hotspots' to @MartP132. He hates them, not least when he's new to an area and cannot differentiate between where is hot and where is lukewarm. But, again, if you're not going to tell me detail of a hotspot, because you think I know it already, why bother telling me that you're not going to tell me.

Whilst we are busy with our lexicological Spring cleaning, can we ban this 'traffic and travel' nonsense for the same reason? Not least because the phrase actually denotes news/information about traffic and travel - rather than traffic and traffic per se.  But, as with 'accidents or incidents', 'travel news' may not always be 'traffic news', but 'traffic news' is surely 'travel news'. In commercial stations, sales execs rush around gleefully selling 'T & T sponsorship'. Let's just call it 'travel news'. It's shorter than 'traffic and travel'; it's more accurate; and 'travel' has more pleasurable connotations than 'traffic'. Sorted.

@TweeterStewart reminded me of my aversion to that one. He explains both offences thus: "One rhymes, the other is alliterative. So they sound 'good' without people thinking what they mean #DJcliche"

He's right. Let's think about the words we use on-air - rather than reach for the cliches on which your naive predecessors have alighted. In radio, words are all we have.

+ + + + +

Since publishing this, I've been reminded of these corkers:

"Fog is affecting both carriageways" (@blokeonradio)

"If you're heading southbound". 'No you're heading South, or you're Southbound'.(@stuartclarkson)

"If it's safe and legal to do so" (Andy Mitchell)". (David: Who thought that was worth saying? It's like saying: 'here's something worth watching on TV tonight, but don't steal a telly'.)

"My pet hate is when the preceding news bulletin focuses extensively on a major fire, only for the travel bulletin to reveal a road is closed "because of a police incident". It's not a police incident - it's a bloody fire..." (Steve Beech).

"I've always wondered why every road becomes TREACHEROUS when it snows. I've never heard a snowy weather traffic bulletin not use the word. Mind you, the time to be worried is when roads are "a bit treacherous". You never know where you are with those sort of roads..." (Andy Roche)

"Busy but moving". "That's to be expected for the time of day" (@blokeonradio)

Grab my pedantic book 'How to Make Great Radio' from Amazon now. 

Sunday 10 April 2016

Sam & Amy - Ten Years On

It's said the average length of an American marriage is eight years, so ten years is a major landmark for a couple having to stare into each other's eyes at dawn each day on a breakfast show.

Sam & Amy break through that boundary in April - and enter their second decade of earlies, waking up the East Midlands.

They now rule their commercial market at breakfast-time on Gem, despite some powerfully-programmed local competition; and their mantelpieces are groaning with awards. They beat Norton & Evans to the Radio Academy 'Best Personality' award in 2014, were awarded.

A little like Terry & June or Jack & Vera, you could be forgiven for thinking they actually are husband and wife. Their chemistry is that of the bickering pair who are mutually forgiven for their seemingly intolerable behaviour because it is underpinned by an unspoken depth of affection which listeners know and understand. It's the same on and off-air.   Meet them together, and you see the chemistry is genuine.  See them making an appearance and you witness star quality, glamour and style.

They are, of course, not husband and wife, and their long-suffering other halves thankfully all get on well. Sam & Amy cringe and confess that they kissed once, a very long time ago. That admission is clear evidence of the authenticity which underpins this show. It's real, but it's also sexy. 

Criticism is often leveled at hastily-assembled traditional 'boy-girl' shows, not least when the 'girl' appears to be cast as a giggling sidekick. Amy is a woman, and she's not to be messed with. Through Sam's bluster and bravado, Amy's non-nonsense character is frequently in charge - and the value of this relationship is thoroughly 50:50.

In the words of annoyingly talented programme consultant, Francis Currie.

"Their loyal listeners have heard them go through different stages of their lives - all of them shared with the audience with the same combination of honesty, fun and self-deprecation that makes them such a joy to listen to."

They are entertaining individuals first, and radio people second. I think MC Pinkham would concede that he wouldn't win awards for his mixing skills. The vivid colour of Sam's story-telling means that his tales can be recalled months later. His delivery is sticky. He holds a room with his stories; and is able to do that on the air too, with enviable skill.

Good production sits at the heart of any great breakfast show, and I know they'd agree that they accept Paul Iliffe's authority, not quite with cheery alacrity, but with certain professionalism. As I said in my book, Paul suggested to me once that great producers are a little like shepherds. He gets them organised, brings ideas to reality, and helps them stay engaged. On natural shows like this, it is the absence of great production which would be most noticeable. And, in unsavoury dark dawn hours, it does take quiet brilliance to direct a pair who've had a taste of BBC Radio 2.

Mention should be made too of the third person in the relationship, the character of 'Dangerous Dave', played by the lovely David Tanner.  Little preppy Dave has now grown from boy to man and indeed to dad in the custody of this show, and this intelligent guy chips in with lines of top quality. A natural musician, his hastily assembled and brilliantly-performed birthday songs amuse the audience, delight the subject, and provide rich material for Sam & Amy's ribbing, which never, ever sounds like bullying - and the audience are on his side.

Corporate circumstances have been more than a tad complex. Sam & Amy bounded through the door on the show in 2006 on what was a relatively new Heart, then freshly acquired by Chrysalis from GCap and, indeed, the first 'Heart- conversion', having previously been Century. The station then became part of the foundation for Global Radio, before being sold to Orion in 2009. Sam & Amy were also in situ when the brand changed overnight to Gem in the early days of 2011.

I gather it was Gareth Roberts, now with the BBC,  who played match-maker when he put the two together in 2002/2003. Amy had been hosting Drive travel, and Sam was part of the then breakfast team. The pair then served their broadcast-courtship on the Drive show.

It's no accident that a number of programmers have seen merit in the show. Francis Currie heard them together on Drive in 2005. and full marks to him for having moved the show up the schedule. 

He says:  "Even then there was such a natural easy chemistry between them that they were the obvious choice for Breakfast when the opportunity came up.  Their skill and appeal on air more than made up for their (then) youth!  They have now worked together for (almost) ten years and the chemistry is even stronger".

There's a peculiar pride in giving birth to a breakfast show and then watching it continue to succeed from afar.

"More than anything it is their easy, natural charm that makes them such a killer combination".

Owing to the fact that they certainly don't have faces for radio, the show is now in vision too, thank to a bright idea from James Brindle at Notts TV, the well-run local TV station. From 6-9 each day, you can see them live on screen in the region on Freeview, Sky and the likes.

I have to declare an interest, given I am part of the parent company of Gem, but I give all credit to Sam & Amy, Dave, Paul, their programmers past and present, Mike Newman and James Brownlow; and today's supporting cast including the news-team, the interns, and hard-working Matt Smith, who help weave the brand tapestry on which they've made themselves comfortable.  Gem now enjoys all time high audiences.

I could write effusive volumes about a number of Orion presenters of whom I am hugely proud - and I shall do in due course - but it would be remiss of me now not to shout from the rooftops about this particular class act as they hit their decade.

Pics from Kris Askey/Orion

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